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Everett’s city library system, fire department may eventually cease being independent

EVERETT — To rein in the city’s persistent annual budget deficit, city leaders may ask voters for a property tax lid lift greater than 1% in the near future. Other ideas being explored are to hand off the Everett Public Library system to Sno-Isle Libraries through annexation and to merge the Everett Fire Department into a regional fire authority.
A discussion on consolidating Everett Transit with Community Transit  will be during the Jan. 31 council meeting. Everett Transit functions independently from the city budget.
For at least 10 years, Everett has operated with a structural deficit, where the expense of running the city outpaces its tax revenues.
For 2025, that gap stands at $12.9 million. The city has worked to close gaps in prior years through postponing purchases and trimming services.
Mayor Cassie Franklin said last week the city does not want to divest itself of the library or fire department. These are “services we desperately want to protect and grow,” the mayor said.
As far as the library, there isn’t a path to grow that without sacrificing other services, the city’s finance team said.
Having Sno-Isle Libraries annex Everett’s libraries would require a vote of the people. Residents would be charged Sno-Isle Library taxes on top of their city property taxes instead of having the library funded through city property taxes. Sno-Isle’s 2024 tax rate is 32 cents per $1,000 assessed value, or about $160 for a $500,000 home.
Having Sno-Isle Libraries run the Everett system concerns residents such as Amy Hieb.
“Our libraries are the beating heart of our community,” Hieb told the council last week, adding that “it is a mistake to hand over our beating heart and expect another entity to handle it with the same care and consideration that (Everett Public Libraries) has exhibited for more than a century.”
“This is so much more than line items on a spreadsheet, it is community,” Hieb said.
On paper, offloading the city library system saves $6.4 million in the budget.
A property tax lid lift of 1% extra could add $8 million to the budget, from prior figures.
Moving Everett Fire into a regional fire system would save money by moving the cost of operating the fire department out of the city budget. Right now, residents pay two city levies that help fund the fire department.
Instead, the fire department proposal puts these costs onto what fire district or regional fire system it may merge with. South County Fire borders Everett.
Everett is the county’s only city with its own library system. Additionally, fewer cities today operate independent fire departments.
The city first discussed these three ideas right before the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. The pandemic paused the conversation.
The city took numerous cuts in 2020, including shutting down its senior center, closing Forest Park Swim Center, and eliminating the Animal Farm at Forest Park.
The senior center’s doors re-opened under a public-private partnership with Volunteers of America which operates the Carl Gipson Center.
The swim center has remained closed.
Everett Fire spent months studying merging with Snohomish Fire but the idea did not progress to any formal agreement.
The latest timeline to get any of these three ideas to voters on August’s ballot is in May. By November, the city budget department is finalizing the 2025 budget. The city must develop a balanced budget by Dec. 31 every year, meaning it must solve its current $12.9 million deficit.

  

 


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